Influence of Culture & Media on Teen Body Image

Influence of Culture & Media on Teen Body Image

By Alejandra Sandomirskiy, high school sophomore

How do peers, cultural messages, and the media impact a person’s body image? How do you think people should handle the impact of peers, cultural messages, and the media?

As I scroll on social media, I often come across body shaming and misleading advice. While we may encounter judgement, becoming aware of the toxicity can impact the way we process its message.

When exposed to the negativity of peers, cultural messages, and the media, we start to focus entirely on our insecurities, disregarding our best qualities. However, understanding the inaccuracy of these portrayals can remind us of our individuality and improve our body image.

Cultural messages

With the rise of technology, cultural messages have become intertwined with the world of social media. The posts we see contribute to our desire for the “perfect” lifestyle and body, perhaps explaining the correlation between time spent on social media and a person’s self worth.

In a study researching the effects of Facebook on college students, those who spent more time on the app were “more likely to link their self-worth to their looks” (Simmons).

However, most of what we see on both social and print media is fake: pictures are posed and the use of filters and photoshop can be undetectable. It is unrealistic to compare our natural bodies to those of influencers and peers when we only see selective images of them.

If we distance ourselves from toxic magazines, television shows, and social media, we can form healthy habits and explore new interests without the opinions of strangers.

Online beauty contests

Additionally, critics of social media compare it to a beauty contest. On platforms where images of ourselves are aesthetically displayed, competition is bound to happen.

As people strive to obtain “likes” on their posts, the “line between a ‘like’ and feeling ranked becomes blurred” (Simmons).

As a result, people may take risky measures to achieve the body they long for. Skipping a meal occasionally may seem harmless, but this mindset can lead to eating disorders and lifelong body image problems.

Striving for peer validation can worsen people’s body image by linking popularity to appearance.

Peer comparison

We may find ourselves jealous of our peers’ bodies, or even frustrated as to why we cannot obtain their figure. Comparing ourselves to someone our age may convince us we are unhealthy or doing something wrong.

At the same time, we fail to consider that no matter what lifestyle choices we make, our bodies are genetically different.

Moreover, the lifestyle category of social media consists of a “disproportionate number of images” that “reinforce a thin ideal” (Mecca).

Influencers promoting restrictive eating can cause eating disorders and feed into the cultural message that “thin equals healthy.” Similarly, people with no knowledge of nutrition often promote unhealthy eating habits while guaranteeing inaccurate results.

Fighting back

To combat the impact of peers, cultural messages, and the media, we must understand the intent of cyberbullies and credibility of content.

When people body shame others for their entertainment, it is our responsibility to report hateful comments. In conversation, calling out others on their use of harmful language can make them reconsider their actions.

Doing research rather than listening to strangers or peers can give us more accurate information on how to care for ourselves. Likewise, following creators who promote body positivity and healthy lifestyles can make social media a more positive influence.

In order to create a community of support and self-love, we must embrace our body and those of others. In our lifetime, our bodies will allow us to travel, visit loved ones, make new friends, and create lasting memories.

The human body is a complex yet unique system that makes these opportunities possible, and it is our responsibility to love and care for ours.


About Alejandra

Alejandra Sandomirskiy is a sophomore at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland. She’s a member of the Student Eating Disorder Awareness Association (SEDAA), which is dedicated to raising awareness about eating disorders and helping to build positive self-esteem among boys and girls. In her free time, Alejandra enjoys exercising, playing the piano, and hanging out with friends and family. She also enjoys camping and going on hikes.


References

Mecca, Allison. “The Impact of Media, the Thin Ideal, and the Power of You.” Eating Disorder Hope, 7 July 2020, http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/impact-media-thin-ideal-power-of-you. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

Simmons, Rachel. “How Social Media Is a Toxic Mirror.” Time Magazine, 19 Aug. 2016, http://www.time.com/4459153/social-media-body-image/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

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